Days ahead of a critical Supreme Court (SC) hearing, the Central government has prohibited the use of four insecticides from the initial list of 27. This list includes the controversial monocrotophos but with riders.
Regarding monocrotophos, activists and observers have highlighted that the recent directive provides a one-year transitional period for farmers to adopt alternatives. The order also states that the “sale, distribution or use of Monocrotophos 36 per cent SL shall be allowed only for clearance of existing stock till its expiry period.”
The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) flagged concerns over the ambiguity of this phrasing. They fear that this might be exploited to amass stocks during this one-year window, allowing the prolonged use of Monocrotophos until these stocks are exhausted. PAN stressed the necessity of a distinct directive that prohibits the manufacture of all Monocrotophos formulations.
Along with monocrotophos, the three insecticides banned are Dicofol, Dinocap and Methomyl by the government through a Gazette Notification dated 29 th September, 2023, but published on 6 th October, 2023.
However, the mention of carbofuran, one of the original 27 prohibited pesticides, in the recent notice has perplexed activists. A statement from PAN clarified, “All other formulations of Carbofuran, except Carbofuran 3 per cent Encapsulated granule (CG) with specified crop labels, should be discontinued.” This implies that the Carbofuran three per cent Encapsulated granule (CG) remains unbanned. Significantly, this Carbofuran 3 per cent CG formulation is the only one registered in India.
PAN India has urged the Central Insecticides Board and Registration Committee (CIBRC) to provide clarity on this matter.
Focusing on monocrotophos, PAN noted its association with multiple pesticide poisoning incidents in India, most notoriously the Yavatmal pesticide poisoning event in 2017.
The Maharashtra Association of Pesticide Poisoned Persons (MAPPP) has been persistently advocating for a ban on this and other harmful pesticides linked to fatalities and injuries among farmers and agricultural workers. In fact, the Maharashtra government has written a letter to the Union Government of India to ban this and four other pesticides.
The crux of this matter traces back to a May 2020 government order which banned 27 hazardous pesticides deemed a threat to public health and safety. These pesticides, part of the contentious 66 under scrutiny for toxicity over several years, encompassed 12 insecticides, eight fungicides, and seven herbicides, totalling nearly 130 formulations.
Reportedly, the government allowed the industry a period to voice their objections. Subsequently, at the behest of major industry players, a committee was instituted under the leadership of TP Rajendran, ex-assistant director general of the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR). The panel reportedly suggested retaining the prohibition on just three of the 27 pesticides, advocating for the release of the others.
However, certain activists petitioning the Supreme Court argued that the constitution and existence of such a committee remain unverified in the public domain, while others insist on its establishment and the availability of its report.
Following this, the government revisited the original ban in February 2023, maintaining the restriction on only three pesticides. Civil society groups approached the SC questioning the revised order.